When you’re on the go with laptops and tablets, rely on your smartphone for internet access using the Wi-Fi hotspot feature. However, this can quickly drain the battery and consume precious data if you don’t have an unlimited plan.
Fortunately, if you need an extra internet connection, a dedicated portable Wi-Fi hotspot can be a good alternative, allowing you to connect multiple Wi-Fi devices at once and share Wi-Fi with friends and family.
If you’re interested in a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, but aren’t sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. This article explains what a Wi-Fi hotspot is, how it works, and things to consider before purchasing one.
What is a portable WiFi hotspot?
A Wi-Fi hotspot is one of two things. It can be a special device that uses a cellular cellular connection and wirelessly rebroadcasts it as Wi-Fi to multiple devices, or you can use your smartphone to act as a mobile hotspot in the same way. In either case, you can use a single cellular connection for multiple Wi-Fi-only devices.
While you can create a home internet hotspot, most people use it as a secondary connection when they are away from home. Portable Wi-Fi hotspots offer greater flexibility by allowing you to connect on the go. You only need to access a network through a mobile carrier, and some offer completely unlimited and simpler prepaid plans.
Internet speeds on portable Wi-Fi hotspots are usually the same as what’s available for a smartphone on the same network, which can reach over 2000 Mbps on 5G.
How do portable Wi-Fi hotspot devices work?
A portable Wi-Fi hotspot device uses a 3G, 4G, or 5G internet connection to create a Wi-Fi network for multiple devices, including tablets, phones, and computers. You can use the network to stream your favorite shows, complete school assignments, and do other activities without worrying about loading data on separate devices.
Essentially, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot is a smartphone with no screen or advanced operating system — it only has the ability to establish a cellular connection and create a Wi-Fi network. Portable hotspots have their own battery (of different sizes) and are usually charged in the same way as smartphones via USB.
Do portable WiFi hotspots work everywhere?
To create a mobile hotspot network, you need a mobile data plan from a network provider. That means you only get coverage in places where that particular provider has a network. Today, in the US, that’s almost everywhere, outside of the country’s most rural areas.
Make sure to check the coverage maps of your preferred provider before buying a hotspot from it. Keep in mind that carriers have different coverage areas depending on whether you’re looking for 4G or 5G speeds.
5 things to consider before buying a Wi-Fi hotspot device
Are you planning to buy a WiFi hotspot device? If so, there are a few things you should know before choosing a particular device. These factors include:
- Wireless Carrier Restrictions
- Service or wireless network availability
- The number of connected devices
- 4G and 5G capabilities
- Wi-Fi hotspot device battery life
Check restrictions with your wireless carrier
If you want to enjoy a high-quality Internet connection, try to choose a provider with the best coverage in your area and the most data plans. Wireless carriers offer portable hotspot plans with different features and coverage. For example, some data plans come with monthly limits that limit your usage. At the same time, some carriers may offer unlimited data but limit or slow down your internet speeds after a certain point.
It is easier to choose a hotspot device as long as you are aware of these terms or restrictions. Be sure to read the fine print of your data plan, especially if you plan to engage in data-intensive online activities (e.g. video streaming). You may detect a drop in video quality if your wireless carrier throttles the connection after a certain data limit is reached.
Please consider the service availability of your wireless carrier
Depending on your wireless carrier, a portable hotspot may not be the right option. Remote areas generally suffer from sporadic network coverage, making it difficult to establish a stable Internet connection using a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.
It’s a good idea to check your carrier’s network availability map to determine if you can get adequate coverage in specific remote or rural areas. Fortunately, major network providers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have nearly complete coverage of the US
Urban areas with the best network coverage tend to be ideal locations for portable Wi-Fi hotspots.
Check the battery life of your Wi-Fi hotspot device
To make sure you can meet all your internet needs, choose a hotspot device with a long battery life. Some Wi-Fi hotspots are small and sleek, but usually have a much shorter battery life as a result – just a few hours. The more data you use and the more devices you have connected, the shorter your battery life will be.
You may also need to invest in a quality power bank to keep your device powered up on the go. Wi-Fi hotspots charge the same way as smartphones, via USB, so you can use a phone charger or battery to keep them going.
The connectivity options of portable Wi-Fi hotspot devices vary. Some devices can handle 5G connections, while others are only compatible with 4G. These differences in wireless Internet technology can also determine the price of the device and the plan.
Cheaper Wi-Fi hotspots, such as those provided by prepaid carriers, can often be limited to just 4G or basic 5G networks. They will be good enough for most tasks, but will be surpassed by the latest hotspots with 5G connections.
If you invest in a 5G hotspot device, you can enjoy even faster upload and download speeds for all connected devices on your mobile network. This type of wireless technology is more reliable, but you can expect a significantly higher price for a 5G Wi-Fi hotspot device. While 4G hotspot devices are available for under $100, you can spend several hundred dollars for a 5G version.
How many devices you plan to connect at once
Most Wi-Fi hotspots can handle connecting at least five Wi-Fi devices at once, but more expensive models can handle 10 or more at a time. However, most people will be fine with just five as battery and bandwidth considerations become important from there. If you are going to add multiple devices to a single hotspot, keep in mind that this will significantly reduce the available data rate for each device. If so, make sure you are using a 5G hotspot.